British Library

British Library

Find out there’s so much more than just books at the British Library

Whether you need to do some research, or simply love books, visiting the British Library is a must as it houses the national library of books and is, quite simply, the king of all libraries!

Highlights

  • Visit Sir John Ritblat Gallery which displays some of the most important literary manuscripts, letters, religious texts and historical documents in the world.
  • Marvel at the Treasures Room, which showcases early Gospels on papyrus, illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages and the Gutenburg Bible from 1455.
  • Grab a coffee and sit outside on the famous Piazza and admire the sculpture of Isaac Newton.

What to see and do

Book a Guided Tour

Guided tours of the British Library last for approximately one hour. Book a guided tour and discover more about the architecture, history and collections of the British Library. 

A tour includes a visit to the Viewing Gallery where you can have a look at the Reading Rooms and learn how books are stored, accessed and delivered. Tours are very popular so we recommend booking in advance.

View the Exhibitions

The British Library regularly updates Exhibitions of key works. Some are long-standing, such as the Treasures of the British Museum and the Philatelic Exhibition which showcases some of the oldest and most valuable stamps in the world. 

Many exhibitions do not have an admission charge. Other temporary events do have a fee, although members can go free and advance booking is also recommended.

Visit the British Library Bookshop

The British Library bookshop is a mecca for book-lovers of all ages. Have fun browsing their postcard collections for an inexpensive souvenir of your visit. Perhaps an Alice In Wonderland brooch will take your fancy. The shop offers an extensive range of books, stationery and gifts, all relating to the British Library and its incredible archives.

Did you know: (5 interesting facts!)

  1. The British Libary stores over 200 million items in its archives. Most are obviously not on display but are kept in storage rooms with very strictly controlled conditions.
  2. If you looked at ten items in the library every day, it would take you 40,000 years to view the entire collection!
  3. One of the treasures of the King’s Library is Caxton’s first edition of Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’, although you need to be a member and gain permission to see it in person.
  4. Ancient Chinese oracle bones are the most ancient items in the library and are over 3,000 years old.
  5. The British Library is enormous by any standards and was the largest UK building built in the twentieth century.

History

  • 1753 – the British Museum Library was founded.
  • 1857 – the Round Reading Room opened, which welcomed many famous authors, including Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens.
  • WWII – many of the library’s most precious artefacts were moved to Aberystwyth where they were watched by security guards around the clock.
  • 1973 – work began on the new site of the British Library – a disused railway yard near Kings Cross St. Pancras.
  • November 1997 – HM Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the completed new buildings of the British Library.

Facilities and accessibility

You need to become a member of the British Library to access the books in the main collections and to use the Reading Rooms, although it is not possible to take books out of the library. Anyone can apply to become a member; annual fees are £80 per year at the time of writing.

There are many places offering refreshments at the British Library, such as ‘The Last Word’ a takeaway cafe on the Piazza offering a selection of hot and cold drinks and refreshments, and The Terrace Restaurant on Floor 1.

The British Library provides a Cloakroom and Lockerroom for visitors, both of which are free to use. If you plan to visit the Reading Room, you will be required to leave any bags or coats in either the cloakroom or a digital locker.

There are male and female toilet facilities on each floor of the British Library as well as accessible toilets and unisex amenities.

Free wifi is available throughout the British Library.

Assistant dogs are welcome if they are on a harness. Dog water bowls are available on request at all cafes and the Information Desk.

The British Library is wheelchair accessible and all areas enjoy step-free access.